I have to confess that even though my career is in international education, I never studied abroad as an undergraduate, partly because as a transfer student, I was concerned primarily about surviving university, let alone studying abroad. I recall knowing other students who were studying abroad, but at the time the opportunity seemed like something only for four-year students, and remained distant for me.
Although I did not study abroad, I was able to enter the field of international education in other meaningful ways--Peace Corps, volunteer English tutoring, working for the UCLA International Institute--leading me to UCLA's Education M.Ed. program and a graduate internship with the university's Internship and Study Abroad Services. Today, I'm privileged to work in such an innovative field and combine my interest in student affairs with education abroad by helping students embark on their own international experiences.
- When deciding where to study abroad, think about how the program and location fits in with your goals. Why do you want to study abroad in that area? To learn a language? Do an internship? Take courses you can't take at your home institution?8 answers – Deciding On A Program
Some students are drawn to enriching their personal lives through experiencing cultures abroad. Are you interested in returning to "the homeland" to explore the culture(s) of your heritage(s)? Or do you wish to tread off somewhere new?
Finally, consider the type of study abroad experience you wish to have--do you want to be in close contact with host country students? Or do you prefer living and studying with other Americans? Do you see yourself living abroad for a whole year? Or just for three weeks in the summer?
- Since there are numerous study abroad programs offered how do I know which program best fits my needs?Consider programs offered by your home institution first. Generally, these programs have the strongest institutional support in terms of academics, financial aid, advising, etc., and are usually most compatible with your college/university's academic programs. However, not every college/university offers its own programs or programs for every student's interest, so you may wish to look at outside programs, directly enrolling in a foreign institution, and other options, making sure to check with the appropriate offices (study abroad/international office, admissions, financial aid, academic department) at your home institution regarding credits and financial aid.6 answers – Deciding On A Program
When you've identified several programs, evaluate those programs--talk to past participants, program representatives, research the foreign institutions, see what's included in the program fee. Try to avoid selecting a program based solely on price--a lower price doesn't necessarily mean a better program. This may be one of a few opportunities you have to live abroad, so choose right the first time!
- I wish I had greater command of a second language. While I've studied Russian and German and have been extremely fortunate to travel with friends who could communicate in the countries where English wasn't spoken widely, having competency in another language opens up so many doors and allows you to connect with people like no other way.5 answers – Before You Leave – Personal
- How important is it to have knowledge about the country I will be studying abroad in before I leave?Extremely important! You're going to be living and studying in an entirely different country and culture, so it's critical to understand the people, culture, geography, and other important aspects of your study abroad country. While many aspects of your country won't really be tangible until you experience them firsthand, you can prepare by doing research, meeting international students, and preparing yourself for the transition to your new home.7 answers – For African Americans – For Asian/ Pacific Americans – For Hispanic/ Latin@ – Before You Leave – For Native Americans
- One of the wonderful aspects about studying abroad is the opportunity to interact with diverse societies and cultures, and learn how they perceive difference and manage those differences. In some countries, race and ethnicity are subtle, lingering in the background, while in other countries, they are very real issues that manifest themselves in daily life, sometimes in negative or threatening ways.4 answers – Racism – Safety Issues
When considering study abroad and preparing for departure, it's important for students to familiarize themselves with the history and dynamics in their study abroad countries, and for students to consider how their ethnicity and appearance may be perceived by residents of the host country. Students should work with their international offices and universities to address concerns about safety and racism, and to identify resources that will help them stay safe while still enjoying the adventure of studying abroad.
- As the son of a Chinese American father and a German mother, I've had a lot of interesting experiences that have made me reflect on my own identity, heritage, and culture. For example, in Singapore Chinese acquaintances expressed curiosity over my background, asking why I wasn't able to speak Cantonese (as fourth-generation Chinese American, my father's family speaks mostly English now). At the train station in Calais, France, an elderly English woman told me I was lucky that I had "round eyes." In Turkmenistan, I escaped being identified as an American (though I doubt anyone mistook me for Turkmen). Finally, while waiting in the London tube station in 2006 with my travel backpack, a pair of English men made uncomfortable comments comparing me and the three British youth who detonated their explosive-filled backups earlier that year.12 answers – Racism – Gender – While Abroad
- What are some approaches you used to make study abroad a reality for a student from a diverse background who most likely would not have done so?It's critical to understand that while a student may share many qualities with others from the same or similar backgrounds, each student is their own person and advisors should not make assumptions based solely on students' background. Advisors must qualify students individually, and recognize each student as a whole person with their student status being just one element of their makeup.6 answers – For African Americans – For Asian/ Pacific Americans – For Hispanic/ Latin@ – For Native Americans
Because students often have multiple roles, identities, and perspectives, I've found more often than not the decision to study abroad rests not only with the student, but with many other "stakeholders" in the process (parents, friends, employers, advisors). In order for study abroad to be fully realized, it's been helpful to explore these relationships and to help the student be able to sort through the various expectations, support, beliefs, desires, and obligations that can influence their decision-making process.
- Study abroad is increasingly being seen as an essential part of the college experience, and just like higher education, it's important that all students have access and the ability to study abroad regardless of their background. It's also equally important that the students who study abroad are reflective of the diversity of the United States. As an educator, it's my responsibility to ensure that study abroad becomes an opportunity for all students, especially those who have traditionally not been represented in the field.16 answers – For African Americans – For Asian/ Pacific Americans – For Hispanic/ Latin@ – Personal – For Native Americans